THE UNITED STATES of America is in a “ mess.” As “carnage” in Chicago mounts, the murder rate nationally has risen to “the highest it’s been in 45 years.” American courts are not fair arbiters of the law, but “political.” On top of that, our armed forces are “bogged down in conflict all over the place.” China and Japan devalue their currencies and “we sit there like a bunch of dummies.” We are even being “taken advantage of” in trade by the middle-income nation on our southern border, Mexico.
This grim assessment comes not from the propaganda of some hostile foreign state, bent on sowing unrest and delegitimizing the U.S. government regardless of the facts. Rather, what you have just read are excerpts from roughly the last week’s worth of tweets and other public statements by the president of the United States. Like many candidates before him, Donald Trump painted a dire picture of the status quo when he was trying to get elected president; to an astonishing degree, though, his bad-mouthing has continued long after he has achieved that goal. To what end?
Certainly Mr. Trump is not delivering painful but necessary truth. A country enjoying nearly full employment with low inflation, and with stock market indexes at all-time highs, cannot fairly be described as a “mess.” Chicago’s surge in homicide last year was indeed horrific, but the overall homicide rate in 2015 was 4.9 per 100,000, substantially below what it was in 1972. (The increase over 2014 was the largest one-year uptick in 45 years, as perhaps Mr. Trump meant to say.) U.S. troops remain in such conflict zones as Afghanistan, Syria and Iraq, but they have progressed against the Islamic State in the latter country; to describe their limited role elsewhere as “bogged down” is an exaggeration — a strangely demoralized one coming from their own commander in chief.
As for international economics, things are more complex than Mr. Trump would have it in that area, too. China actually allowed its currency to appreciate 30 percent against the U.S. dollar between 2010 and August 2016. Yes, the 2015 U.S. trade deficit with Mexico was $58.4 billion, but that includes $12.5 billion worth of crude oil.
Harping on the tragic status quo ante is, to be sure, standard for new presidents, because it helps them buy time, politically, for their own new policies to work wonders. Mr. Trump’s rhetoric, however, veers into outright alarmism, unqualified by a reasonable view of the facts. His words, in short, seem more likely to foster desperation than determination, and radicalism rather than hope. History shows that when populaces succumb to such moods they are more likely to follow “strong” leaders, and the simplistic, forceful solutions they offer to complicated problems. As Mr. Trump continues his efforts to manufacture a sense of crisis, Americans would do well to remember that.
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